The Consultant

by Kenneth Wajda

The letter had arrived in the mailbox without postage, buried under the other unwanted mail. Someone had brought it, hand-delivered it to the house. The balllsy creep, Bruce thought. There was no name on it, no address even. How dare he get that close. What if Kathryn had picked up the mail?

He was sweating. He could feel his heart racing in his chest and there was a twisted, sick knot building in his stomach. He purposefully tried to take a deep breath, but he couldn’t draw in enough air. It was like his lungs were constricted.

He unbuttoned the top button of his Ike Behar shirt and tugged at the knot of his Balenciaga woven silk tie. It was warm for April. He almost sat back in the black leather Natuzzi recliner, but decided he can’t think well when he’s too comfortable.

Besides, he had to watch out the window for his wife. Still not home. Good.

He leaned forward, dug through the legitimate mail of satellite TV offers and utility bills and grabbed the letter. He unfolded the single sheet from its matching envelope—both were printed on the finest Southworth ivory linen stationery.

He read it again and his heartbeat accelerated further. He noticed his hands were shaking.

ACME Consulting, Inc., that was really the name in the upper corner—ACME—like in those stupid Road Runner cartoons, like some kind of a trick, he thought.

He checked back out the window for Kathryn.

He almost didn’t need to read it again. The words had firmly planted themselves in his mind the first time. It was like they had a grip on him, were stifling his breathing.

Threatening words. He was a blackmailer. That’s what he was. Disguised as a legitimate business. Like so many corrupt corporations, he had figured out a way to work the system. To profit by not hiding his fees but by publishing them. Putting them on the books and incorporating. There was no requirement to use the firm or its services, the letter very clearly stated. With those words, he knew there really was no choice but to pay the Coyote. This one he couldn’t fly away from fast enough. He was caught, snared, done.

His head jerked toward the window as Kathryn’s BMW xenon headlights caught his eye. He stood up and nervously took the letter, stuffed it into its envelope, then fumbled the works into the inner breast pocket of his Firado cashmere suit jacket.

He tried to compose himself to look normal, natural. But not even the finest actor in the world could pull this one off, he realized.

He waited for Kathryn to enter the house. He decided to sit, then changed his mind again and stood up, switched on the TV.

All the while, the words of the letter ran through his mind: “Exactly 133 days ago, you bought a very nice diamond necklace at Eric Olson Jewelers in Lafayette. How did your wife like it? Or perhaps she knows nothing of it. We at ACME Consulting, Inc., have services to help deal with matters of marital indiscretion. Please understand there is absolutely no obligation to contract our services. If you are not interested, perhaps your wife would be.”

He made one last futile attempt to take a deep breath as Kathryn’s key turned the lock.

Inside his dorm room, Joe Coyne, a sophomore majoring in business at CU, chugged a can of PRB to celebrate a call for an appointment from his first customer in the consulting business he had started just a week before Christmas.

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